A robust plan that will deliver a smaller, more efficient organisation and tackle the severe financial challenges facing Woking Borough Council, has been adopted following last night’s extraordinary meeting of Full Council (Tuesday 22 August 2023).
Following statutory government intervention and the issuing of a Section 114 Notice, Woking’s Improvement and Recovery Plan will deliver expectations detailed in the Secretary of State’s Directions published on 25 May 2023 and help the council return to meeting its best value duty. It will also draw upon the recommendations of the non-statutory external assurance review into the council’s finances, investments and related governance.
The council faces an extremely serious financial shortfall owing to its historic investment strategy that has resulted in unaffordable borrowing, inadequate steps to repay that borrowing and high values of irrecoverable loans. Critically, the council can no longer balance its budget for the current financial year and subsequent years without action.
The three to five year plan details the actions that the council will undertake, together with milestones and delivery targets to measure progress. It seeks to deliver sustained improvements in financial management, governance and commercial functions, and organisational effectiveness.
Among the list of actions outlined, the plan commits to deliver a Medium-Term Financial Plan to close the £11m ‘business as usual’ budget gap for 2024/25, reduce outstanding debts through asset rationalisation and commercial strategies, strengthen governance underpinning financial decision-making and agree financial support from government.
These steps will enable the council to contribute towards mitigating the £1.2 billion deficit in financial year 2023/24 that was set out in the Section 114 Notice.
Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “The adoption of the Improvement and Recovery Plan is of vital importance. It assures government that we are committed to delivering the change needed to meet our best value duty and tackle the significant financial challenges at pace and with urgency.
"As we know my administration inherited this very serious financial position. I want to be very clear that the future course we must all follow contains many challenges. It requires determination and resolve by councillors, the staff that support them and the borough’s residents. That said, I believe this is a journey we can achieve as we move forward in the months ahead.
“There is no doubt that major savings are required. It is inevitable that over the next five years there will be substantial change to the services this council delivers to residents as it becomes a smaller, more efficient council focused on delivering core services to residents. I want to be very clear we have little room for maneuver and we must take the majority of identified savings.
“To this end we must become a council that lives within its means, whilst building confidence with the government and rebuilding trust with local people. I am steadfast in my commitment to deliver this plan necessary to achieve financial stability and secure services for the future.”
A live working document, the plan will take account of progress and relevant changes tracked through robust monitoring. It will be used to update the government’s commissioning team, who will update the Secretary of State, regularly on progress against key objectives.